Each year more than 100,000 students in grades 6-8 enter the VFW’s Patriot’s Pen youth essay contest. The first-place winner from each state competes to win one of 46 national awards totaling $46,000. The national first-place winner wins $5,000 and an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., in March. Epstein was awarded $350 from the VFW and $150 from the West Hartford Post 9929.
The essay contest encourages young minds to examine America’s history, along with their own experiences in modern American society, by drafting a 300- to 400-word essay, expressing their views based on a patriotic theme chosen by the VFW Commander-in-Chief. The assignment touched Gabriel personally. His cousin Bryan Millan, joined the Army after graduating from college and was deployed to Iraq. Said Epstein “I was very happy for the opportunity to participate because I truly believe our veterans deserve more recognition than they receive, and I don’t think we thank them enough as a country” and he added “winning the contest is a way for me to say thanks to the men and women, many of them Latinos like my cousin, who sacrificed so much for our freedoms”
The Patriot’s Pen program is open to students in grades 6-8 who are enrolled in a public, private or parochial school or home study program in the United States and its territories. Gabriel Epstein will represent the state of Connecticut in the national contest.
Gabriel’s Winning Essay
Why I Appreciate Our Veterans
When it comes to The United States of America, the first thing I think of is freedom, and our veterans. If we had not had our brave veterans, we might not be here today. Our veterans have put everything they have on the line to serve our country. They are patriots. They are heroes.
Until 2011, when my cousin was deployed to Iraq, I always thought about Veterans Day as a day off, and as a day where I could stay home from school or go out with friends. When my cousin was deployed to Iraq, I was devastated. I was scared that I would never see him again, and that he wouldn’t return. But imagine how it was like for his parents. When he safely returned from Iraq later that year, that’s when I learned to appreciate, and honor our veterans.
Our veterans are really everyday people but they understood their need to risk everything for the greater good of us, the American people. They left their home for months at a time, leaving family, and friends concerned. Many witnessed terrible things and endured horrific situations. All veterans, and especially the honorable persons that do not remain with us today, have paid in full the high price for freedom and the life that we have all come to know in America. They realized that they were a part of something bigger than themselves, or their personal community. They had profuse devotion, and love for every single person in this nation – even though they don’t know them. That is something I don’t think I could ever do. Veterans truly deserve our appreciation, and our honor.
On Veterans Day, we honor every patriotic man and woman who has ever worn the uniform of our country, Americans who stepped out of the crowd and swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic. This man or woman could be a mother, a father, neighbor, an aunt, an uncle, a cousin – you name it! They are all American heroes, and they all deserve our respect.
Unfortunately, we fail to really appreciate our veterans. It’s really not too difficult to show that you care, so please, the next time you see a veteran, show your gratitude even if it is just by saying a simple “Thank you for your service.”